Etive

A fine couple of camp’n’fish trips to Etive kick off 2019.

New Year’s Day

My usual post-Christmas boredom dragged me out the house for a solo trip on New Years Day, heading west for a 2 day fish’n’camp session over at Etive. I trailed the boat over, and was soon heading northwards up to my favourite haunts in the waters of the upper loch.

Clipping on a 40g silver Koster quickly resulted in a take and a rather underwhelming little pollack became my first victim of 2019. I can only hope his bigger brothers want revenge later in the year!

My first fish of 2019, a small pollack taken on January 1st
First fish of 2019 – a totally tiny pollack

Apart from my one pollack it was very similar to recent trips, with loads of small spurs and a couple of tiddler rays. It did turn into a fine evening though – calm, cold and clear, and just as I like it.

Mooring up just off the eastern shoreline, I set up camp in the last of the light. This was the same spot Ian and I went glamping a couple of months back but just with the small tent this time. Dinner was simple – sausages, beans and baked tatties, all cooked on the beach in the heat of my campfire.

Basic, but most welcome. Sausages, baked potatoes and beans cooked under the stars and over an open campfire on New Year's Day 2019
Campfire Dinner

I’d a few casts from the shore whilst I waited for dinner to cook which produced a spurdog followed by a pair of varifocal specs, presumably lost by some careless boater over the summer. Makes a change from crabs, anyway!

A small, shore caught, spurdog from Loch Etive
Shore caught spurdog

Next morning was fine and calm, with crispy frozen sand crunching under my feet. My not-so-smart phone tried to tell me it was -11C, but I doubt if it was any lower than -5. Still chilly though!

Peeking out from my tent on a cold and frosty January morning, looking north along Loch Etive towards the mountains of Glencoe
A frozen view from the tent

Camp struck, boat retrieved, and then it was time for a few more hours on the water. I’d love to say there were monsters queueing up, but the reality was a long line of small spurdog.

A small male spurdog taken from my boat on Loch Etive
Typical small spurdog

Repeat Performance

A couple of days at work, and then Trevor and I met up at Taynuilt last weekend for a repeat performance. Launching into the gloom of a misty Highland dawn we spent the morning on a couple of marks around Airds and Ardchattan. The usual small thornbacks and spurdog put in an appearance, but we caught no surprises.

A small thornback ray
Small thornback

By early afternoon we decided to head up to our campsite and get set up in daylight.

Style – but real mid-winter comfort too!

A couple more hours afloat, chasing fairly small stuff, and we edged our way cautiously back to camp and set up a temporary mooring for the night.

The weather was calm but a bit misty and drizzly, so the big tent was a huge improvement over dodging drips in a glorified bin bag – and just as warm as our previous experience with the woodburner.

The glow of our stove provides both warmth and a boost to morale
Heat!

Trevor wasn’t feeling so good that evening (I put it down to chewing rotten mackerel), so I swallowed a dram on his behalf before hitting the sack. The highlanders (cattle, not human) that evicted Ian and myself last month had moved on to terrorise the occupants of Cadderlie bothy so we had no visitors overnight.

Next morning we awoke to an almost surreal sight in the early morning mist, as my boat appeared suspended in cloud rather than floating on the water.

Very hard to tell the difference between sea and sky on this misty morning on Loch Etive - our little boat appears suspended rather than afloat
Floating or just suspended in the clouds?

As the light strengthened so did the drizzle, and we were happy enough to fire up some bacon rolls and coffee rather than make a dash for the sea. Eventually, though, we packed up the gear and overloaded the boat again, before heading out for a few more hours.

Up and about early on a January morning at Barrs, Loch Etive. Our very comfy tent, complete with stove is parked on the beach whilst the boat lies peacefully at anchor on a flat calm and rather misty loch.
Early morning at Barrs, with the woodburner burning happily 🙂

Trev was perkier again this morning, and soon began to cuff in fishing terms. I don’t much care when it comes to the smaller fish, but I woke up when he picked up a 9lb spurdog in the deep trench off Barrs.

A nice spurdog for Trevor

Sadly, this was as good as it got and we spent most of the time dealing with relative tiddlers. However we could hardly complain about our surroundings as even the mist highlights the beauty of the loch.

Misty, but beautiful

And, having spent 5 days in the last 2 weeks afloat on Etive, I might give it a rest for a little bit!

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Double figure spurdog

A kind of slow burn day afloat on Etive with Ian – but with a bit more action later in the day.

Kelly’s pier looked distinctly drab and unwelcoming as Ian and I arrived at Etive in the grey light of dawn. The winter solstice had just passed – although it didn’t exactly feel like we were charging towards summer as thick fog sucked the heat from our bodies. At least not so much as a ripple disturbed the loch surface.

A grey and foggy start to the day at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Grey start (Ian’s pic)

Clearly not conditions to hang about, so we launched as efficiently as Michelin man clothing allows and headed down the loch. We planned to try a couple of new spots, given generally poor results from our usual marks in recent months.

We detoured slightly to locate a small wreck lying close inshore but decided to leave it to the divers this time round.

A small, shallow, wreck picked up on sidescan when fishing Loch Etive
Small wreck

Our first stopping point was a hole in around 100 feet of water, largely surrounded by shallower banks and close to a decent shore spot. I was fairly hopeful as we dropped a variety of baits onto the sandy bottom. However, 90 minutes and a single grey gurnard later we headed across the loch to location number 2. Another 90 minutes with nothing but crabs to show for our efforts and any optimism suitably crushed, we retreated to a deeper mark.

Afloat and fishing on a chilly December Day, Loch Etive
Chilly work

The sun was out, and morale soon improved as we started to pick up fish and our feet thawed just out a little. Ian did his usual, trashing me in the thornie stakes, and we both picked up a range of small spurdogs. Similar to the last time we fished here, but with no sign of anything larger.

This little spurdog looks like it's waving at the camera
Smiley Spurs
A perfect winters day on Loch Etive, looking towards the snow capped Ben Cruachan
Perfect winter day

With dusk not too far away we decided to make a final shift up to a mark in deeper water. I’ve not fished up here for a couple of years but it has thrown up a decent mix of species in past seasons, and it didn’t look like we’d much to lose! At 220 feet it was a bit deeper than the spots we’d tried most of the day. I don’t know if that was the reason or not, but the fish seemed ready to play.

We’d a mix of spurdogs and a handful of ray. All fairly small until Ian hit into a fish that was clearly better than the titchy stuff. Being faced with something that pulled back was a bit of a surprise after all the little pack fish, but it didn’t take too long to surface a nice spurdog. Not weighed, but somewhere around the 8-9lb mark.

Ian and nice spurdog, Loch Etive, December 2018
Ian and nice spurdog

My turn next as a good run resulted in a fine bend on my rod and a suitable feeling of solidness. A few minutes later and a very plump female spur appeared in the net. This one was weighed and just crept into double figures, at 10lb 2oz. Still, my first double figure spurdog for some time now!

A double figure spurdog taken late December from Loch Etive
Double figure (just!) spurdog

We fished on into darkness for about 90 minutes, taking advantage of a fine, calm evening. Sadly, although we picked up a further sprinkling of ray and spurdog plus a couple of whiting, there were no more doubles on offer.

Afloat on Loch Etive on a mid-winter night
Darkness falls

So I’m quite happy with my Christmas prezzie from Etive, although the day shows how unpredictable a place it can be. Nothing to show for the morning, followed by decent numbers at marks not too far away.

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Glamping on Etive

Boat glamping? Wild glamping? I’m not really sure the best way to describe our recent session on Loch Etive, but we certainly weren’t roughing it! The boat was fully loaded with a chunky Robens bell tent, complete with carpet and wood stove (with plenty wood) for the cold evening we expected. I’d got the tent earlier in the year, more for Liz and myself than for fishing, but I’d not had the chance to try out the stove in it yet…

Autumn fishing with a comfy camp on Etive

The Longliner 2 slipped into the calm waters of Taynuilt and we were soon running down to our usual starter mark at Ardchattan. An hour or so here produced very little, so it was on to the deeper spots offshore from the Priory shore mark.

Our wake disturbs the calm waters of Loch Etive as we motor down towards the lower loch, late October 2018
Disturbing the calm

Ian with a modest spurdog - not big, but still one of the better ones we caught
Ian and spurdog

There’s always a vigorous tide run here, but it is only in the top 30-40 feet and looks worse than it is.  Anyway, the fish seemed to like it and Ian was soon stacking them up – mainly small spurs, but with some decent thornbacks and the odd whiting too. I trailed well behind, fishing in my usual lazy style, but also playing with the cameras and sorting out some hot drinks (my excuse!)

Ian with a thornback ray caught from the lower end of Loch Etive, near the Priory shore mark
Thornback from the lower loch

A few hours here and we called time, conscious that we’d to sort out our glamping arrangements for the night before darkness fell. We also wanted to allow time for an evening session in the middle of the loch, hoping the larger spurdog would come on the feed after dark, as they’ve done in the past. Hauling anchor we made our way back up the loch and through the narrows at Bonawe.

Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive. just after the sun has disappeared for the evening
Sandy beach at Barrs, Loch Etive

Our target was the beach at Barrs, which offers a great camping spot. The sun had sunk below the hills behind us as we approached, but we could see shapes moving around on the sand. Too big to be human, I thought they were deer initially, before realising they were ultra-wooly and photogenic highland cows. Bugger! Deer would disappear before we landed, but cattle are a different proposition and quite likely to tangle with mooring ropes and tent guys. Assuming we could find a cowpat-free zone big enough to park the Robens in the first place.

A hairy highland cow faces up to Ian
Cuddly, but with sharpish horns

Still, we edged ashore to try and make peace with the natives. They were having none of it, and just stayed put. Given they were much bigger, there were more of them, and they had pointy horns, we decided to go for plan B. This is a more exposed mooring on the other side of the loch, and a more limited pitch space. Still, perfectly OK in the light winds forecast overnight.

A large tent and a sandy beach don't make the best companions, but a few rocks will counter any winds tonight
Building on sand

Tent erected, stove installed, and we headed out into the darkness for another two or three hours fishing. It’d be nice to say we were rewarded for persistence, but the pattern remained similar – a lot of small whiting and spurdog. Loads in mid-water, and you didn’t need to drop right to the bottom to get action.

Calm and cold, we fished on with the help of a Cup-a-Soup or two, but got nothing but tiddlers in exchange. Mainly to Ian, as I cut it back to one rod that was fished rather half-heartedly.

Fishing deep water for tiny spurdogs in the pitch black of an October night is quite hard work
Tiddler bashing in the pitch dark

Back ashore, and we managed to set a mooring quite efficiently, given it was completely dark, and headed for the tent. It was pretty cold, which provided the incentive needed to get the stove lit pronto. I’d taken a generous supply of wood in with us, so it wasn’t too difficult to get a decent blaze going. I think both of us were taken aback at how efficient the stove actually was, as it became pretty warm pretty quickly – and then positively hot.

The woodburner proved almost too hot for us, and certainly heated the tent
Roasting!

Foil covered potatoes were plonked in the fire, and sausages and mushrooms were followed by a nice steak, washed down with a decent dose of malt whisky. I can hardly claim it was to ward off the cold though! A final check on the boat and it was time to hit the sleeping bags…

Another first - attempting to cook dinner on top of the woodburner. It went better than we deserved!
Dinner underway

Had there been any human presence awake on Etive at three in the morning (thankfully, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t), then they’d have been treated to a curious spectacle. Under the light of a full moon a smallish figure, dressed only in thermal underwear and wellies was scurrying around the beach picking up rocks.

Our tent shows up nicely againts the large moon on Loch Etive
Moonlight

That was of course yours truly, trying to stop the tent pegs pulling out of the sand in the rising breeze. I think success can be judged by the fact that Ian was still snoring gently by the time I’d finished – which rather undermined his claim next morning that he’d barely slept 🙂

A nice, but rather insecure, camp on the sandy shores of Loch Etive
Glamping on the beach

We’d a leisurely start, fuelled by coffee and bacon rolls, and the sun was well up in the sky by the time we’d cleared the tent away and un-moored the longliner. Humming and hawing a bit, we decided to head a good way further down the loch and see if we could avoid the tiny spurs that seemed to fill the upper reaches. A couple of hours close inshore saw us pick up an LSD or three, plus whiting and a thornback – together with a smattering of tiny spiny critters.

A tiny thornback ray for Ian, taken just off the moorings at Taynuilt, Loch Etive
Tiddly thornback

Our final throw of the dice was close to the moorings at Taynuilt, where the seabed starts to rise towards the beach. A quiet spell was followed by a flurry of thornbacks which was a bit of a morale booster. Nothing very big, but good fun in shallower water and definitely welcome after packs of miniscule spurdog.

A nice thornback ray from Ian from Loch Etive, October 2018
Ian with a respectable ray

We packed in early, partly to avoid road closures, partly to give me time to start sorting out a mountain of gear when I got home, and partly because there are only so many small fish you want to catch on a fairly chilly autumn day!Share this:
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Early Autumn Shorefishing in Argyll

I’ve not really been shore fishing around Argyll for months, ever since the midges started to appear, so I was happy to head westwards for a daytrip at the weekend. It was 50:50 whether to trail the boat, but I plumped for the aerobic option and packed the shore gear and hiking boots instead. Plump being the operative word, as I could also do with shifting some summer over-indulgence! Sadly, no Bonnie dog for company, as she’s probably needing an op to repair ligament damage. On the plus side that meant I’d actually get some fishing time, as opposed to spending my day chucking sticks for her.

Early morning sun picks up the mountains at the head of Loch Etive
Early morning sun

Autumn was starting to show some teeth as I headed west, with sub-zero temperatures showing in several places. The early morning sun soon beat back any hint of frost, but it’s a reminder that winter isn’t too far away now. At least the summer crowds have largely gone, although the car park at the head of the loch seemed well enough occupied for early on a Saturday morning.

The walk along the loch was knock-out stuff this morning â€“ and I don’t just mean the struggle through bog and overgrown, saturated vegetation. Even the mist was dramatic, and the landscape revealed as the sun broke through was west highland picture perfect material. The hike is definitely hard work, but very rewarding in fine weather.

A misty autumn morning looking across scrubby birch woods down towards Loch Etive
There’s a loch in there somewhere

Stunning oak woodlands line the banks of Loch Etive, with my path winding between them
Stunning oak woodlands line the loch

Late morning had me setting up the rods with mackerel baited pulley rigs and casting out into calm, deep, water.

Launching a mackerel bait out into the calm waters of Loch Etive, in search of a spurdog
Launching a mackerel bait

The tide was ebbing, which makes life easier on this mark, and the sun was shining. However the fish didn’t seem as inspired as I was, and it was almost an hour before the first bite translated into a small spurdog.

A small thornback ray adds variety to the catch on Loch Etive
A small thornback adds variety

It was quickly returned, just as another pair of anglers hove into view, and set up at a nearby mark. A few fish later I headed round for a chat and to see how they were doing, as I’d not fished the spot they were on. Turns out that they started off before me, but had overshot the turnoff from the trail and then spent quite a while making their way to the marks. I consoled them a little by telling them that Trevor and I had a pretty hard time finding our way here the first time we tried. At least they were also catching fish as a reward for any blisters incurred.

A thornback ray caught from Loch Etive, and waiting to be returned to the water
Fish of the day

The day rolled on nicely â€“ more fish, more coffee and more bacon. A good bit of sun, some breezy spells, and a shower or two. Basically, easily enough to keep me occupied for the rest of the afternoon until I decided to head for home before sundown. It always feels longer on the way back, but nothing felt too broken by the time I arrived at the car.

The Loch Etive woods are a lovely place to explore as the autumn colours start to show
A lovely place to explore

In day trip terms this is very much an even split between hiking and fishing and that’s part of the attraction to me. I like my hiking and I like my fishing, and this combines the two quite nicely. Add in a little hillbilly cooking and it suits me perfectly.

However, it’s probably as well that I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s not all about the catching â€“ 10 spurdog, 1 thornback and a doggie doesn’t sound too bad for a 5 hour session, but the biggest fish only went around 3lbs and most of the spurs were laughably small.Share this:
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Spurring on Loch Etive

After a couple of weeks of cold, windy and snowy weather I really welcomed the prospect of a calm, sunny day on Friday. Ian was up for the challenge of an early morning start, so high water saw us slipping the dinghy into the cold waters of Loch Etive around half-eight.

I followed my usual habit of fishing a spot or two down the loch on the ebb tide and we got what has become the usual result – very little. Only 3 or 4 whiting in fact, which suggests I need to revamp tactics a little. Or perhaps building the new fish farm nearby has disrupted things a bit?

Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine
Ben Cruachan in the winter sunshine

Reversing course well up the loch put us into more fish friendly territory. Micro-spurs to be more precise 🙁 I don’t know which is worse – catching nothing, or hauling tiddlers 250+ feet. We were kept busy hauling them to the surface and soon shed our jackets as we started overheating in the sunshine.

Little and littler - an LSD and a micro spur side by side. We had loads of tiny spurdogs on Loch Etive today
Little and littler – an LSD and a micro spur side by side

Happily things started to improve and a handful of better fish appeared. Ian provided this nice fish of just over 9lbs and I added another not long afterwards.

Ian with a fine Etive spurdog
Ian with a fine Etive spurdog

Another nice spurdog comes to play
Another nice spurdog comes to play

A sprinkling of whiting and a suicidal poorcod mixed it with the spurs and Ian did his usual efforts to clear any LSDs from the vicinity. I think he managed 8 to my 1!

A poorcod and a whiting - the poorcod makes good bait, the whiting less so.
Poorcod and a whiting.

Tangles - the less glamorous side of fishing!
Tangles – the less glamorous side of fishing!

A couple more spurs around 9lbs came along as we basked in the sunshine and munched a bacon roll or two. Not exactly fantastic fishing but a lovely day to be afloat in midwinter!

Me holding a nice spurdog with Glen Etive in the background
Me with a nice spurdog

Ian and another Etive spurdog
Ian and another Etive spurdog

Towards the end of the day I picked up a codling in the 2.5lb bracket and Ian added the only thornback of the day with a decidedly muddy specimen. The temperature plummeted as the light faded so we didn’t hang around into the dark

Our final tally was around 50 spurdog (the vast majority very small), perhaps 10-12 whiting, 9 LSDs, and one each of thornback, codling and poorcod.

Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian's pic)
Etive looks a little grey as the sun disappears (Ian’s pic)
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Kicking off 2018 in Style – Targeting Skate and Conger off Oban

Lochearnhead was a freezing -5 degrees when Ian and I met up on Sunday in the pre-dawn darkness. We didn’t hang about, quickly shovelling the rods and gear into my car before heading across to Oban with the boat in tow. Gallanach managed a balmy -2C as we launched and headed out to Kerrera, very grateful for the shelter of the cuddy. First trip of 2018 and we were targeting skate …

Sunrise off Gallanach, near Oban, January 2018
Sunrise off Gallanach (photo courtesy of Ian)

A little while later and the gentle SE breeze still managed to cut right through us as we waited for the boat to settle at anchor. Skate were the target, but getting a bacon roll and a hot coffee on the go to ward off the chill felt more like my priorities. However, even with 530 feet of water below us, it didn’t take too long to get the baits out and settle down to defrost.

Cold, grey sea with a background of the Nevis range of mountains covered in snow
A cold winter morning looking towards Ben Nevis

Maybe half an hour passed before Ian’s rod keeled over to the steady run of a skate. I went into cameraman mode for a few minutes, until the ratchet screeched on my own reel (the ratchet on an Avet reel is definitely not subtle, and makes a horrible racket). A double hook-up!!

Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera, January 2018
Ian bends into a skate off Kerrera

Whilst it’s all very nice to know that there are skate around, hooking two simultaneously creates a wee bit of a problem in a small boat. The obvious difficulty comes after 20 minutes of exhausting, backbreaking, slog when you bring the fish alongside. Trying to haul one fish over the gunwhale without losing the other as you do so isn’t easy, especially if you’re both a bit knackered. However we sort of managed and filled the cockpit with a brace of skate – almost identical males in the 120-130lb bracket.

A brace of skate aboard my little Longliner 2. One each to me and Ian, with a double hookup always being interesting to manage when the fish hit the surface.
Two at a time! Both decent sized male fish

Hasty measurements and a photo or two and then they slimed their way back over the side and into the depths again. A new coalie on the hook and then it was time to get serious with the bacon rolls as we’d definitely earned one by now.

Deep water - the sonar reads nearly 530 feet to the muddy seafloor
Deep water – the sonar reads nearly 530 feet

Another good run to my rod came to nothing, but a repeat a few minutes later hooked me into a small skate. I wasn’t complaining though, and this little 32lb fish was a lot easier to handle than its predecessor.

Small skate of around 32lb taken in January 2018 from the Firth of Lorne, near Kerrera
Small skate of around 32lb (photo courtesy of Ian)

Ian plays another skate in the Firth of Lorne as the sun fades on a very chilly winter afternoon. This one ultimately escaped, much to Ian's frustration.
Ian with another skate

A 169lb skate taken from 520 feet of water near Kerrera, Oban.
Best skate of the day (photo courtesy of Ian)

The rest of the day proceeded in similar fashion and we ended up with six skate in total, with the best around 169lb. Ian had a number of smallish spurs to his lighter rod and I also picked up a bonus of a small conger, something I’ve never caught round here before.

A small conger eel captured on a large skate bait from deep water off Oban
Small conger eel (photo courtesy of Ian)

Fifth skate of the day, and I'm feeling the strain...
Fifth skate of the day, and I’m feeling the strain… (photo courtesy of Ian)

We stuck it out until the sun set before finally hauling yet another heavy weight from the seabed as we retrieved the anchor. Job done, we headed home cautiously in the dark, looking forward to defrosting in a nice warm car. Six common skate and a similar number of spurdogs, not forgetting a small conger, makes a pretty good start to the year in my book!

A cold winter sunset afloat near Kerrera, January 2018
Winter sunset looking towards the Garvellachs and Jura
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Final Fling for 2017 – a Hike in the Sunshine

Days of Christmas force feeding meant I really needed to get some fresh air,  so I reckoned a hike in the sunshine along the banks of Loch Etive would fit the bill nicely. Fishing wasn’t the main aim but it looked possible to get 3 or 4 hours to wet a line before darkness fell.

Bonnie, my bozo spaniel, came along for the day and quite happily trailblazed as we trudged along. Happily, the cold had frozen most of the water into the ground so it was less boggy than a month ago and we made steady progress towards our mark. With the sun still hiding behind the mountains it was chilly but otherwise a beautiful day to be out.

Cold, clear and windless - a perfect winter day at Barrs, Loch Etive
Cold, clear and windless – a perfect winter day

Typical small spurdog just about to be returned. Bonnie the spaniel is looking on in rather bored fashion.
Typical small spurdog

Arriving at our mark I quickly rigged up and cast out whilst Bonnie waited impatiently for sticks to be thrown. Unluckily for her there was a solid stream of distractions in the form of small male spurdogs and I was kept busy dealing with them. On two or three occasions I got bites just as soon as I hit bottom, suggesting there were large numbers about.

Lobbing another bait out
Lobbing another bait out

Small but sleek looking spurdog
Small but sleek looking spurdog

With only a short session and quite a lot of action between the fish and doggie stick chucking, it took a while to get a brew on – but I can’t survive without a supply of coffee.

Brewing up a coffee on my twig powered Honey Stove
Coffee brewing

This time I wasn’t the only one out on the loch. I’d passed a tent with a couple of shore rods parked outside it on the way in, and there was a kayaker out as well. Plenty loch to go around though!

A kayaker using the light wind to sail up Loch Etive in the shadow of a snow covered Ben Starav
Kayak sailing up Etive in a very light breeze

No wind, so paddle power now required for the same kayak
No wind coming back, so paddle power now required

I chucked in the fishing around 2.30, to be sure of making it back before it got too dark. A final tally of 15 spurs and a couple of dogfish for 4 hours fishing was a good bit better than I’d expected, even if none of them made more than 3lbs or so.

Camoflaged against the rock - this little spurdog merges quite nicely against the granite
Camouflaged against the rock

Golden light floods over Ben Starav as the sun starts to set over a mirror like Loch Etive, just after Christmas.
Golden sunlight lights up Ben Starav

The return trip to the car was a fine walk as the sun faded and turned the mountains golden, all reflected in the perfectly still waters of the loch. Our timing was good and we crunched across the carpark just as the last of the light disappeared.

Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing
Bonnie is quite indifferent to fishing

Poor old Bonnie made herself comfortable in the front seat of the car and then collapsed for the journey home. She’s over 10 now and can still charge around for hours, but it does catch up with her when we stop at the end of the day.Share this:
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Dodging Icebergs on Loch Etive

It’s not often that icebergs stop play when it comes to sea fishing in the UK, but it came close yesterday. I was out on the boat near Kinglass on Loch Etive and the fish were (almost!) being protected by large shields of ice drifting down from the Glen Etive end. A very dramatic winter scene on a beautiful calm day, but I did manage to winkle a few fish out as well. Have a look at the video and see for yourselves – if nothing else the sound effects from about 4:25 onwards should bring any boat owner out in a cold sweat…

Ice Fishing on Etive

I’d launched from Taynuilt just before dawn and followed my usual routine of first trying down the loch towards Ardchattan on the ebb tide. A good shot here yielded only a couple of thornbacks and a pair of spurdogs, all small, plus a collection of whiting and a doggie. The whiting were shredding baits quite quickly so I didn’t take much persuasion to shift up the loch and try a spot which held good numbers of fish the last time Ian and I were across, about a month or so ago.

Your typical Loch Etive whiting doesn't grow very big, as this image shows
Typical Etive whiting

All went smoothly until I reached somewhere near the bothy at Cadderlie and started to encounter more and more sheets of slushy ice stretching across the loch. I’ve seen this a couple of times before and, given the very cold weather over the last week, it wasn’t much of surprise. Pressing on it became less and less slushy and obviously too thick and extensive to make any sensible attempt to fish. Maybe not quite icebergs, but close enough as far as I’m concerned! I retreated back to a mark off Kinglass which seemed relatively ice-free and dropped anchor in about 280 feet and dropped frozen mackerel into water of about the same temperature – less than 2 degrees according to my sonar.

The water is only 1.8 degrees here, very low for a saltwater loch, and down to the amount of fresh water near the surface.
Cold water, only 1.8 degrees

Clearly things were a lot warmer down at the bottom, or else we’ve some very hardy fish around here, as there were a steady stream of takers. Mainly little spurdog, but a doggie or two and a few more whiting. Even a little cod which dropped off right at the surface.

One of many little spurdogs trashes its way onto the boat, with a beautiful wintry backdrop of snowy mountains surrounding Loch Etive.
Trashing spurdog

The fishing was kind of mixed in with the ice crunching past the hull of my Longliner 2, and I wouldn’t have wanted to fish in anything thicker. Even as it stood the boat and anchor were dragged a couple of hundred metres by quite thin ice floes.

My boat is sitting at anchor on Loch Etive and carving a path through a sheet of ice floating past on the tide.
Carving through ice

Pretty much the final fish was the ling you see in the pic, which is the first I’ve had from this far up Etive and was clearly eyeing up a whiting which was on the other hook – quite a scabby specimen and probably about 4lb or so, but I wasn’t complaining.

A ling taken from the upper part of Loch Etive, my first from this far up the loch
Loch Etive Ling

I chucked in the fishing a bit earlier than I usually do, partly because of the cold but also because I didn’t fancy ploughing into more ice at speed on the way home. Apart from having two blocks of ice for feet it wasn’t uncomfortable afloat, and the conditions made for a memorable day afloat.

A beautiful but bitterly cold winter scene on Loch Etive, looking SW past Ben Cruachan
Etive was just as cold as it looks in this image
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Wild Camp on Etive – with a few Spurs thrown in

I do like this time of year – the nights are long but it’s not too cold, and the worst of the bugs are back in hibernation. The autumn colours are still around and the summer crowds have largely gone. And last weekend the weather and the tides lined up nicely too, so I sorted out my tent and loaded up the rucksac again. Time for another wild camp on Etive, fishing right alongside my tent in a very quiet spot where deer were the only likely intruders.

Solo wild camp and fishing on Loch Etive

To me the long walk in is part of the attraction of this mark. The track is rough and quite arduous in places, but it runs through wonderful scenery and quite splendid isolation – a very rare commodity, even in Scotland.

Fording a small burn along the track between Glen Etive and Barrs.
Fording a small burn

Travelling light is a relative term, but everything goes in the rucksac apart from the rods themselves, and I keep gear to a reasonable minimum. This time I was relying on a campfire for cooking and hot coffee, so the gas stove was swapped in favour of a little fatwood and a couple of mini-firelighters. A few leads, traces and a little coolbag with mackerel bait was pretty much all I needed to fish, as the loch doesn’t tend to be too tackle-hungry.

A couple of hours later I arrived at my destination, having worked up a decent sweat in the process with only a single tumble into the peat bog on the way in. Mild embarrassment and a wet fleece were the only casualties, but a reminder of the reason I carry a PLB on these trips – the line between merely looking silly and potentially crippling injury is a fine one, and easily crossed over.

Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night
Campsite in sight. A beautiful location to spend the night

Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background. Fine autumn colours on Loch Etive.
Scots Pine with Ben Starav in the background.

Set up, bait up and cast in – it doesn’t take long to get fishing on this mark. I am pretty lazy when it comes to fishing here, and I don’t tend to spin or float fish for the pollack which also swim around here. However I did need to sort out my campsite for the night, and darkness comes early in these parts at this time of year. My “semi-detached” style of fishing allowed me time to get on with collected kindling and firewood, and to set up the tent.

Sunset over Loch Etive. Fishing near Barrs on a calm November evening
Sunset over Loch Etive

Finding dry wood can be a bit of a challenge on the west coast, as anything on the ground gets saturated quite quickly, so I’d to tramp around a bit to find decent chunks of dead but still standing timber. My efforts were rewarded by a couple of nice pieces of oak to form the core of the fire, and a good bunch of dry-ish bracken to act as tinder. Happily it didn’t take too long to get a decent fire set up and burning steadily.

Campfire catches hold - a welcome sight on a cold November evening
Campfire catches hold

Almost in parallel, there was a steady run of spurdogs taking my baits. I missed a few due to my fire raising, but the body count was respectable and rising as I put the coffee pot on to boil and tucked a couple of potatoes into the fire to cook away.

Striking into a spurdog, early November morning on Loch Etive. Cool, clear and beautiful.
Fish on!

A small thornback ray from the shore, near Barrs, Loch Etive
Thornback ray

The light finally faded as I returned my one and only thornback ray of the trip, and the steak and mushrooms went on to cook – I felt I deserved a little treat for braving a long November night. All fairly primitive, but I dined well and in very contented fashion as I contemplated the stars reflecting in the calm waters of the loch. Not a light or trace of humanity disturbed the quiet.

Steak and mushrooms over the campfire. Treat and a half!
Steak and mushrooms. Treat and a half!

I’ve not had a baked apple since I was a kid, but it was a perfect follow on to the steak. Apertifs came from a slug of Talisker and then it was time for an early night.

I slept pretty well, waking only to the sound of some light rain on the tent and later on to the pitter-patter of tiny feet as a tick traversed my torso. Uugh! Not really what you want at two in the morning and it was duly trapped and despatched after a slightly desperate search by torchlight. The morning light revealed a neat line of bites across my middle which suggested I’d moved the wretched thing on a few times in the night before it woke me up for real…

Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night
Five in the morning, moon and stars brighten the long night

A New Day

Next morning dawned clear and cold, with the sky clearing after the last shower departed, so I struggled free of my warm cocoon and back into thermals. The gear was pretty much ready to go so it was a matter of minutes to bait up and cast out. Then back to trying to re-awaken the campfire and get some breakfast on the go.

Early morning - calm, cold and clear on Loch Etive as I watch my rods for a sign of fish biting
Early morning – calm, cold and clear

My backup was in the form of muesli, so there was a strong incentive to get the fire going and polish off an early morning smorgasborg of sausage, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. The overnight rain dampened everything enough to give some anxious moments, but I eventually kickstarted the fire and breakfast got underway.

Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting...
Bacon and eggs on the campfire. And a fish biting…

Just like the campfire, fish were a little slow to come out to play, but started to appear just as breakfast got to the critical stage of pre-burn perfection. A little careful juggling kept everything edible whilst still pulling in a few more spurdog and a rather more grisly whiting head – its body presumably forming the equivalent of spurdog bacon and eggs.

Whiting head - with the rest forming part of a spurdog breakfast. Not a good start to his day!
Unlucky whiting

Over the next couple of hours I had a coffee or two, pulled in a spurrie or three, and generally organised my backpack until, rather slowly and reluctantly, I packed up camp and prepared to move back down the track towards civilisation. I wanted to fish a mark about half-way back to the car that I hadn’t tried for 2 or 3 years. Whilst I fully expected to repeat previous experience and find it stuffed full of micro-spurs in the sub-12 inch category, I felt it was worth a shot, just to see.

Early morning spurdog, caught near Barrs, Loch Etive
Early morning spurdog

Micro-spurs

My expectations were fulfilled, and faint hopes dashed, as a succession of micro-spurs dutifully gobbled up the bait and were dragged ashore. An hour of this was more than enough, especially given a blustery northerly wind, so I was soon heading back towards the car. Given it’s a fine spot to camp and fish it’s a shame that there don’t appear to be any larger fish around here.

Casting out - upper Loch Etive
Casting out – upper Loch Etive

A final splosh through the sodden moorland saw me back at the carpark at Glen Etive, with a couple of final treats in store on the road home. The first in the shape of large numbers of deer (there are loads in Glen Etive), and then a very fine sunset as I crossed over Rannoch Moor on the way back east. A reminder that Scotland can be magnificent at times, and not just a prisoner of Atlantic weather systems… Definitely an A-list weekend!

The pier at Glen Etive, a well photographed location!
The pier at Glen Etive

November sunset over Rannoch Moor
November sunset over Rannoch Moor
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Pollacked on Loch Etive

Fish in the east, fish in the west, but not really the weather to exploit either coast! Faced with the need to check out Alcatraz before an upcoming trip to Galloway I chickened out and made my way over to Etive again, with the furball for company.

Having had fairly poor results from down the loch over the past year I just headed straight up into the less visited upper loch and settled down to a little Etive pollack bashing. This isn’t something I often do on the loch, as there are a lot of smaller fish around, but I was trying for something a little better today.

My leadhead attracted little attention in the peaty-ish waters, but I lost a couple of smaller fish which threw the hook before my light spinning rod went parabolic and line peeled rapidly off the little Abu reel. Clearly a better fish, I treated it with a little respect and it was a few minutes before a good sized fish (and my best Etive pollack) slid into the net and came aboard.

Unhooking a nice pollack taken on a leadhead and firetail worm
Unhooking a nice pollack

Being guilty of over-estimating the size of pollack (slab sided, but thin when compared to cod) I always prefer to trust my scales and these slid round to a healthy 5lb 6oz.

Slipping a Pollack back into the water

Nothing else seemed very interested so I shifted a little and dropped anchor. Wind and tide were opposed, which is never something to be recommended, but it wasn’t uncomfortable and just a little awkward as the boat slewed from side to side. Bozo had clearly given up on dreams of a run ashore and curled up and went to sleep for a while.

It was a little slow, but a decent sprinking of fish graced Alcatraz’s gunwhales, including spurdogs, dogs, a thornback and some whiting (heads only!).

A small spurdog comes aboard
A small spurdog comes aboard

Taking pity on Bonnie I took a break in the early afternoon and we headed ashore for an hour of chasing sticks and drinking coffee in the sunshine.

A lethal combination - wet dog with stick
A lethal combination – wet dog with stick

A couple more hours fishing produced more of the same, but no sign of larger spurdogs, so I was happy enough to point Alcatraz south and head back towards Taynuilt.Share this:
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